Ok so last week I was a “pescetarian” and I seemed to survive without my beloved red and white meats so this week I’ve decided to become a Coeliac for the week and find out what it is really like to live without all foods containing gluten! For those of you who have heard about gluten intolerance and coeliac disease but aren’t really 100% sure what its all about or perhaps think you may actually have some sort of intolerance to wheat and other gluten containing foods I am going to give you all a little run down on what Coeliac Disease is and why it is important to seek medical advice before self diagnosing or ignoring symptoms!
What is Coeliac Disease?
In people with coeliac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing damage to your small bowel, in which the tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. This is referred to as “villous atrophy”. The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced which can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms. There is no correlation between symptoms and bowel damage, so even if asymptomatic (you have no symptoms), damage to the small bowel can still occur if gluten is ingested.
There is no known cure for Coeliac, so essentially people with Coeliac Disease remain sensitive to gluten right throughout their lives. Luckily however, by adhering to a totally Gluten Free Diet, symptoms generally tend to disappear within a couple of months and any long term side effects or health consequences can be totally avoided and relapse only really occurs if gluten is reintroduced into the diet. Phew! And with Coeliac Disease and “Gluten Free” becoming the new buzz words of the nutrition world, following a Gluten Free Diet is becoming easier and easier! Not only are we seeing more and more Gluten Free foods hitting the shelves at our local health food and grocery stores but eating out is becoming much easier too with GF options popping up on all sorts of menus right across the globe! Even your favourite Italian restaurants, who pride themselves on their traditional (wheat laden) pastas and pizzas are offering GF options for the ever growing number of Coeliac sufferers, who are now generally able to eat out with friends and family without the fear of having to order a boring old side salad (with no dressing) due to their restrictive diets!
Who is likely to get Coeliac Disease?
According to up to date research, you must be born with the genetic predisposition to develop coeliac disease. The most important genes associated with susceptibility to coeliac disease are HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8. Either one or both of these genes are present in virtually every person with coeliac disease. Only 1 in 30 people (approximately) with one or both genes will get coeliac disease. Environmental factors play an important role in triggering coeliac disease in infancy, childhood or later in life.
Though these genetic markers can be used to help identify potential Coeliac Disease sufferers, the ONLY acceptable way to appropriately diagnose someone who presents with symtoms indicative of Coeliac Disease is to have a small bowel biopsy performed! So PLEASE, if you think you may have CD, please please please go and see your doctor and first ask to have a blood test to identify your genetic predisposition, and if that does happen to come back positive, make sure you follow through with a biopsy to make sure you are not misdiagnosing yourself!
Contrary to popular belief…a gluten free diet is generally NOT healthier than a normal unrestrictive diet! Many gluten free options are actually very high GI, low in fibre and are loaded with extra sugar, fat and additives to make up for loss in flavour and texture of some food products! Not to mention GF options are often far more expensive than your standard varieties (ie cereals and breads etc).
Ok so I shall stop lecturing you all now and get on with my challenge of following a GF diet for a week! The idea of this challenge is not only to share some tastey GF recipes and appropriate GF eating out/takeaway options with you and but also so that I myself become more familiar with which foods contain hidden traces of gluten and what gluten free options are out there now!
So yesterday being Monday and the first day of my challenge, I had boot camp and didn’t get home until fairly late so some take away Vietnamese seemed like the perfect solution! Vietnamese food is great for Gluten free options as many of the dishes a comprised of mostly fresh salad ingredients, rice noodles and various types of meat and seafood which are all obviously GF! The only things to watch out for would be the sauces, so make sure you double check before you order! I ordered “make your own” beef rice paper rolls, as they contain no known traces of gluten and the sauce is made from primarily fish sauce, vinegar, chili and sugar all of which are generally gluten free! A big Vietnamese Salad (beef, vegetarian or chicken) would also have been a totally sweet GF options!
Though this isn’t very helpful when you are eating out and are not sure what ingredients have been used, here is a great checklist summary of how to determine if foods are suitable for a GF diet…
- Naturally gluten free foods
For example: Fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meats, eggs, nuts and legumes, milk, fats and oils and gluten free grains e.g. rice and corn.
- Products labelled ‘gluten free’
You can be confident that products displaying the ‘gluten free’ label are safe.
- Products that use the ‘Crossed grain logo’
Products displaying the crossed grain logo are endorsed by Coeliac Australia and are safe.
- Products that are gluten free by ingredient
If any ingredient in a product is derived from wheat, rye, barley or oats, then this must be declared.
More updates soon!!